Party On

“Don’t give up before the battle even starts,” Hero of Hope speaker John Rice said to the Relay for Life crowd filled with cancer survivors. “There are new drugs coming out every week.”

A Marine and long-time Raymond resident, Rice was diagnosed with B-cell Non Hodgkins Lymphoma due to his exposure to Agent Orange in the Vietnam War. The day he learned he had lymphoma, he dropped to his knees and asked God to give him more time “... I even threw in I needed time to finish painting the back porch,” he said, laughing. God must have heard his prayer because that was five years ago.

Rice then honored his friend, supporter and lung cancer survivor Dennis Horton, asking him to stand as he shared how reassuring his encouragement has been. Horton stood with head lowered and eyes gazing to the ground, clearly embarrassed and humbled to be singled out.

“If you need hope, I’ll show you hope,” Rice continued, asking survivors in the audience to stand. “These people in the purple shirts ... they are our living hope.”

It was the 17th annual Relay for Life, held at Badger Stadium. Going strong in the Mountain Area since 2000, the community has raised more than $1.5 million, and as of Sunday evening, this year’s event alone raised $49,507.

“We had 13 active teams,” Relay for Life organizer Tami Michel said proudly, “and we raised nearly $50,000 ... we may be small, but we’re mighty.”

The Oakhurst Lutheran Church, which has been a team participant since day one, hit the quarter million mark this year, receiving a special plaque in recognition of that feat.

“I am proud to serve Oakhurst Lutheran. We are the only team that has participated in every Eastern Madera County Relay, and have now raised more than a quarter of a million dollars,” OLC Pastor Dave Sebastian said. “I just wish more churches and organizations would become involved so that not only can we treat cancer, but prevent and eliminate it.”

“Thirty-five, 40 years ago when we prayed for someone on a Sunday, far too often weeks or months later, we would be praying for comfort and consolation for their families and friends, because cancer had claimed another victim,” Sebastian continued. “Not so often anymore because of the successes in treatments and early detection made possible by funds raised from Relays for Life.”

The 5,200 Relays for Life across the country raise a combined total of about $400 million each year. The American Cancer Society uses this money for programs and groundbreaking research.

“We’re going to encourage and love on you all day long,” Michel said after opening ceremonies came to a close, and that’s exactly what happened ... all day long.

One stand-out was Horton’s daughter, Yvonne, who decided to walk a marathon (26.2 miles) inside Badger Stadium to honor and celebrate her father. She made regular pit stops to grab ice cold beverages and energy bars, courtesy of Raley’s.

Donations can be made at, or can be dropped off at Ameriprise Financial.